We’re still doing this, huh? We’re still pretending as if this is as worse as it gets, as if it this is rough, sure, but we can do this, we got this? For me, July (and August) are when everything gets even worse because, on top of the rest of the bullshit this world chooses to throw at me, I also need to deal with the insufferable Israeli summer. That’s probably why my listening always to go super heavy and fast during these months, as I look for some sort of outlet for my aggression and frustration. This is doubly true these days as it literally feels like a few days since I last wrote one of these intros.
The days and weeks are blending together as part of this “new normal” that we insist on thinking of as permanent or stable. The reality is that, just like before COVID-19, things are moving beneath the surface that our mind does not want to comprehend. Things like climate change, economic crisis, and a lot more. It’s somewhat fitting then that a lot of the music on this month’s list seems to deal with the unknown and the unknowable. First, there’s the clearly climate change oriented Slow Decay from breakdown stalwarts The Acacia Strain. Then, there’s the Lovecraft tinged Bedsore and their meditations on the madness which ostensibly lies beyond but is always-already within us. Of course, Imperial Triumphant explore the same themes, taking a hard look at our dead-end, hopelessly decadent, born to die futures.
Even post-rock sleepmakeswaves has gone on record in the past to say that their music is done in the shadow of the collapse, so that we have something beautiful to meditate upon while everything falls around us. Yes, another intro where I talk about the world collapsing. Yes, I’m getting tired of it too. But I can’t look away, I’ll be honest with you. That is, unless I’m listening to music which brings us back full circle, in that symmetrical way in which I enjoy writing. The more we go into this thing, the more we’re finally feeling the collapse that people less fortunate than us have been feeling it for years, the more I turn to music for my solace. Does it provide it? Sometimes. I hope this list provides some of it for you. Stay strong. We’re only just getting started.
The Acacia Strain – Slow Decay (doomcore, beatdown hardcore)
Every now and then, an album comes along that becomes inescapably ingrained in your subconscious. Sometimes it’s at the forefront of your mind, guiding your gait as you go about your day. Other times it’s almost imperceptible, replacing the silence and static between coherent thoughts until you find yourself mouthing inaudibly along to lyrics as you cook dinner. Or in my case, whisper-screaming “LEFT FLOATING SOMEWHERE GOD WILL NEVER FIND…” with a tough guy grimace while completing chores until my partner descends the stairs with a confused stare. Thanks, Vinny.
I wrote at length about Slow Decay a couple weeks ago, and it hasn’t left my rotation since. I keep trying to mill through the often days-long lists of new albums I have to check out, and without fail, I find myself using it as a palate cleanser between other artists. It’s the first thing I put on when I hop in my car in the morning, and when five o’clock hits, you can find me at red lights hollering “WHERE DO YOUR LOYALTIES LIE?” at fellow commuters and brake-checking tailgaters along to its desolate grooves. Honestly, it’s a bit embarrassing, but the mosh is primal and I must heed its call.
Beyond writing one of the most crushing, prescient, anthemic albums to grace the core sphere in a decade-plus, The Acacia Strain have also marked a major milestone: charting top five in first week sales on Billboard, just behind household names like Taylor Swift and the Hamilton soundtrack. I can’t recall a single time this has ever been achieved by another band of their pedigree, and twenty years into their illustrious career at that. This is a monumental victory – and not just for the band themselves, who are every bit deserving of the praise and press such a prestigious, high-profile charting brings them. It’s also a victory for metal and hardcore at large – especially the latter. Our motto here at Heavy Blog is that we’re ‘documenting the golden age of metal,’ and while we are absolutely living through its renaissance, we would be remiss not to touch on the similar paradigm shift happening in its sister genre.
There has been a massive influx of fresh, young hardcore outfits in the past few years, all of whom seem born from the bored, withering corpses of metalcore and deathcore – genres pioneered by, you guessed it, The Acacia Strain. And to be honest, most of them are really, really fucking good – playing polished, de- and reconstructed versions of the music they grew up on. This has led to a few different camps forming, like the old school death metal inspired but decisively NOT deathcore stylings of metallic hardcore bands like Fuming Mouth, who, surprise surprise, opened for The Acacia Strain on their last big tour. Many others have gone the nu-metalcore route like recent darlings 156/Silence who look suspiciously like The 1975 playing Korn. We’ve also seen a huge sass revival with bands like SeeYouSpaceCowboy…, .gif from god, and The Dillinger Escape Plan‘s long lost queer lovechild The Callous Daoboys taking the scene by storm. Hardcore is arguably at its most active, engaged, and certainly at its most diverse stage of life. And all these young musicians and fans, along with their marginally older metal counterparts, you know what they all have in common? They all grew up on The Acacia Strain, and they all buy vinyl.
Their landmark sales are also due in big part to adopting what is likely becoming the new industry standard: a perpetual release cycle. 10 of Slow Decay‘s 12 tracks were debuted as two-song 7” singles over the course of five months, all leading up to the album’s full release. Sleep Token and Bring Me The Horizon, among others, have adopted similar release patterns to great success. While slowly trickling material as singles and EPs may make many balk, it’s proving to be the most effective way to increase both all around engagement and sales. Sure, it flies in the face of what we have long held to be the sanctity of a good anticipated album drop, but what good is holding to tradition if it no longer serves its purpose in the post-Spotify era of digital music consumption? Spotify’s CEO recently said if musicians want to make more money, they simply have to make more music, which isn’t technically true; you just have to release it continuously to keep consumers engaged with your content and create a bigger, more rapt audience for the full album’s eventual release. Obviously, this model serves to line the billionaire streaming king’s pockets even more, but he’s not entirely wrong. If you’re trying to make a living as a musician and can’t see the value in adapting your strategy to fit current models, you may be doomed from the start.
Forgive the soap boxy tangents, if you please. All that’s really just to say that The Acacia Strain have not only written one of the best albums in recent memory, they’ve also once again broken the mold and paved the way for a new generation of heavy bands in more ways than one. They are titans of both sound and industry, and if you have not listened to Slow Decay yet due to some preconceived bias against bands from the core side of things, you are doing yourself a massive disservice.
Read More: Review
Bedsore – Hypnagogic Hallucinations (blackened death metal, progressive death metal)
Italy’s Bedsore are relative newcomers to the international death metal scene, and you’d be forgiven for not recognizing them just yet. They released a two-track self-titled EP in 2018 that caught the attention of 20 Buck Spin, who released their full-length debut album Hypnagogic Hallucinations last month. I reviewed that record quite favorably, and weeks later, it holds a firm spot in my personal Top 10 albums of the year thus far.
I’ve talked about the record plenty already, so allow me to give you the elevator pitch: think Leprosy-era Death augmented by an appreciation of psychedelic prog and black metal. There are traditional heavy metal leads, blastbeats, weird synthesizers, and angular OSDM riffs. If you’ve remained engaged with the recent developments in death metal and the international OSDM revival, then Hypnagogic Hallucinations is required listening. It’s officially on the syllabus.
Hypnagogic Hallucinations is engaging in its seamless blending of a broad range of metal styles and has the songwriting skills and artistic development of a band that is potentially three or four albums deep into their career. I mean, just listen back to the two early drafts on the EP and compare them to the versions that appear on the full length. In the two years since, the band has nearly mastered their sonic space and aesthetic, which can make or break a death metal record. On top of that, there’s a certain restraint on display, wherein the band show glimpses here and there about how weird they truly can be, whether it be the psychedelic instrumental introduction, the ethereal synths and clean guitars early on in “Cauliflower Growth,” or the brilliantly campy rock and roll ending on “Brains on the Tarmac.”
Given time, there’s no telling how the band will develop this portion of their broad sonic palette, but whether or not they decide to lean into their potential absurdity and mind-bending experimentation, we’re in for a good time, so it’s best to get in on the ground floor.
Read More: Review
Defeated Sanity – The Sanguinary Impetus (brutal death metal, tech death)
Everyone and their mom already knows how fucking excellent this album is, so I’ll try to keep this short and sweet. In the seven long years that it’s been since we last got a proper full-length from Defeated Sanity – I’m not counting the release of Disposal of the Dead//Dharmata because it’s a diptych pair of EPs and not a singular LP – very little has even come close to dethroning this collective of German madmen from their place as the world’s most fascinating death metal band. And my god, what a return it is. Drummer, guitarist, and general band mastermind Lille Gruber has stated that The Sanguinary Impetus is the oddest and most technical of Defeated Sanity’s releases to date, and he’s not wrong.
There are two factors that elevate The Sanguinary Impetus even compared to the impeccable oeuvre of Defeated Sanity. The first is that it cranks the average speed much, much higher than their previous outings. If you were fascinated before by the incredible ease with which Defeated Sanity disregards any and all notions as to the value of parsable song structures or easy-to-follow riffs, The Sanguinary Impetus is a labyrinthine gauntlet-dropping of astronomical proportions. At the risk of trivializing the obvious amount of careful consideration that went into constructing these nine tracks, there are plenty of moments on this record that genuinely feel like the Gruber and co. saying “hold my beer” before launching into some of the most impressive death metal pyrotechnics ever put to tape. The other side of this is that the crunchy parts, where the group slows down to deliver a bludgeoning slower riff, will blow your mind every fucking time. It should be illegal to write something as heavy as what occurs at 1:45 in “Propelled into Sacrilege” or in the last 20 seconds of “Imposed Corporeal Inhabitation.”
The other truly impressive aspect of The Sanguinary Impetus is the choice of production. I am as ardent a devotee of Colin Marston’s skills behind the mixing board as I am of his music, and what he’s managed to do for Defeated Sanity on this record is far and away some of the boldest and best metal production of 2020. This is a tougher point to grasp if you haven’t heard older Defeated Sanity, but before this record their performances were typically enshrouded in a layer of murk. While I do love that production style, the level of clarity with which Colin Marson has captured every detail of every performance brings a completely novel mood to the group that is nothing but beneficial. Like some ancient cyclopian edifice sloughing off layers of grime and detritus as it rises from sewage, finally revealing its true form, everything about The Sanguinary Impetus is crystalline and clear to the naked eye, finally revealing just how truly far out there Defeated Sanity are. It was probably at least partially a choice borne of necessity; an album as technical as this would be nigh unlistenable with Defeated Sanity’s older production choices, but it’s a change in form that pays off in spades regardless.
Thinking about how long the wait could be until the next record from Defeated Sanity – my god, if they take until 2027 I might just die – in the wake of The Sanguinary Impetus fills me with conflicting feelings that are two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, this album is so densely packed with fractals of detail to uncover that I could never get another album from Defeated Sanity again and probably die satisfied. On the other hand, this album is so fucking good that I need more Defeated Sanity right now. Oh well, time to spin The Sanguinary Impetus again, I suppose. I’m not sure this one will ever leave my rotation.
Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville (avant-garde metal, blackened tech death)
Metal, more than most genres in music, is by its very contrarian nature ripe for all sorts of sonic and compositional experimentation. Melding elements of free jazz, post-rock, atonality, improvisation, and baroque/classical music into the metal template has been a popular staple since the genre’s early days, and the past decade’s metal output did nothing to dampen the experimental genre-mashing flame championed by bands like Emperor, Atheist, and Cynic. The past few years, however, have displayed a more widespread and particular proclivity for envelope pushing, with release from White Ward, Animals as Leaders, Behold… The Arctopus, Neptunian Maximalism, and a host of others melding free jazz elements into a metallic structure that revels in abstract sonic chaos.
Of the bands pushing metal to its (il)logical extremes, few have done so with more surprisingly original and effective results than New York’s Imperial Triumphant. Their 2018 release Vile Luxury was a manic, frantic, hallucinatory plunge into the depths of modern urban decay, balancing recklessly aggressive and avant garde compositions with a tangible narrative that mirrored the music’s menacing chaos. Their fourth full-length record, Alphaville, takes this now well-established narrative and builds on it in a manner that is never short of completely satisfying. It’s a grand statement of what metal can be, and one of the best records of the year.
In comparison to its predecessor, Alphaville feels simultaneously more accessible (few moments capture the discomfiting rage of the unforgettable finale of “Chernobyl Blues”, though Bloody Panda’s wretched cameo in “Atomic Age” comes close) and more obtuse. These compositions, deftly constructed and performed to a fault, emphasize the band’s most angular and slippery aspects, sliding from memorable and discernable riffs like those found in “Rotted Futures” to the Pyrrhon-esque free jazz pyrotechnics of “Excelsior” in a manner that somehow feels less jarringly abrasive than Vile Luxury. This is Imperial Triumphant at their smoothest and most focused, blowing through wildly experimental compositions with a flare that almost feels effortless.
But that isn’t to say that Alphaville is any less a mesmerizing and punishing listen. Despite some of the extreme metal edge being minimized, these songs are decrepit wormholes that contain multitudes of crafty flourishes that enhance the album’s atmosphere and drive home the band’s urban narrative. The subway station segue and crushing industrial thump at the tail end of “Excelsior”, the completely unexpected and utterly amazing tycho drum freak out (featuring Meshuggah’s Tomas Haake) in “City Swine”, the grainy barbershop quartet that graces the opening moments of “Atomic Age”, and the gorgeous piano of “Transmission to Mercury” all add incredible amounts of atmosphere and depth to an album already chock full of fantastic ideas, and keep a record teeming with experimental composition focused around a central theme. It’s moments like these, which litter the record, that further entrench Alphaville as a sensational build upon the frantic foundation of Vile Luxury, enhancing and refining nearly every aspect of the band’s vision in the process.
There’s a lot of hype surrounding this release, and having spent many hours dissecting and simply succumbing to this record I can emphatically say that all of the praise is justified. Alphaville is a deft display of a powerful and unique band growing stronger and more impactful by doing exactly what they do best, and the metal world is better for it. Experimentation and avant-garde aesthetics have been running wild through metal for decades, but few times with more arresting and consistently mesmerizing results than in the music of Imperial Triumphant. If you listen to one album outside of your genre comfort zone this year, make it this one. You may love it, you may hate it (and both are legitimate responses), but it’s doubtful that you won’t be moved and shaken by it. Hail Imperial Triumphant and their rotted vision of our present and future. Long may they reign.
Question – Reflections of the Void (death metal)
In 2018, Mexican band Question added a bassist and another guitarist to their ranks for the release of their self-titled EP. The band was already cherished in underground death metal circles but these additions and the release promised much more to come. It had seemed that Question had arisen to levels of composition that were incredibly satisfying, weaving their style of aggressive yet complex death metal with ease and efficiency. But that was an EP and the question (get it) was, how would a full length cloaked in this new-fangled chops of their sound? Well, the answer is fucking excellent as we now know, seeing as they unleashed Reflections of the Void on all of us.
At the center of this album lies one king and one king only: the riff. Good god, the riffs on this album are so delicious. Check out “Beyond Illusions of Existence”, the second track, for example. Propped up by the veritable assault of drums, the guitar riffs twist and turn in the background from malevolent aggression during the verses, through action-packed groove on the bridges, and all the way to a lurching, bewildering mix of the two on the choruses. The bass hums in the riffs shadow, filling in all the little details you need filled in for the music to feel pregnant with a sense of momentum and fierce forward motion. That is, until the bass takes the reins of the track in its hands and suddenly burst into its own, twisted role after the middle of the track.
In short, it fucking rules. Add to all of this the deep gutturals that grace this album, garnish with the incredible and mind-bending album art, sprinkle some of the acoustic, touching ideas near the end of the album, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for some premium death metal. In this golden age of death metal, Question have released one of the more consistently jaw-dropping and fleshed out albums, leaning on their excellent composition skills to duck and weave through everything that makes death metal great. Like a lot of people (myself included) you’ve probably slept on this band for way too long. Don’t keep doing that.
Read More: Death’s Door
sleepmakeswaves – These Are Not Your Dreams (post-rock)
I generally don’t like to delve too deep into discussion on what makes for a “perfect” album, but for the sake of argument, when I think about albums I might consider placing into that category they generally do all or almost all of the following. They come in with a very clear musical “voice” or mission statement. They are consistent in both reinforcing that “voice” throughout as well as just in the overall quality of songwriting and performance throughout. They also generally take some form of “risk” in attempting something the band/artist hasn’t necessarily shown they were capable of prior. So voice, consistency, risk. For those reasons and more I generally throw Australian post-rock legends sleepmakeswaves and their second full-length Love of Cartography into consideration of that “perfect” category. It was a huge step up for the band in every sense, and to this day remains one of the most outstanding and representative albums of 2010s post-.
It is also for these reasons that I am unlikely to place the band’s fourth album/EP collection these are not your dreams into the same category. But it is also here where I emphasize again how much I dislike the idea of “perfect” albums. these are not your dreams is intentionally grandiose in scope and oftentimes musically. It is sprawling. It covers a wide gamut of musical styles and influences both already well-explored by the band and some entirely new to them. Comprised of three 4-song EPs, each with their own distinct “voice,” at nearly 70 minutes in total, it is meant to be an overreach of sorts. By digging both into their past and looking to expand into the future, the music of tanyd is deep, complex, and very often not what you expect. Whether it’s the addition of vocals on tracks like the booming “cascades” and “zelda,” the heavy but bright And So I Watch You From Afar-like prog-math rock of most of the entire second EP, the doubling down of ambient electronics in parts of the first third and throughout the final EP, or the utterly surprising and nostalgic shoegaze/pop sensibilities of tracks like “serenity now,” smw are able to throw curveball after curveball in this release while somehow managing to keep the entire thing from falling apart.
Much of that can be attributed to the many moments where the band simply do what they’re best at. Standout tracks like opener “the endings that we write” “pyramids,” and the eponymous closer are the kind of longform but hyper-focused and beautifully-written tracks that the band have made their name on over the past decade. As time has gone on the band has been more willing to throw in bits of prog and heavier influences, but the foundations are still undeniably their own. I’ve already read many comments of people not being in love with all of the stylistic risks that the band takes at times, but for me it’s almost besides the point. Even if certain choices they made aren’t as successful as others, what I love most about tanyd is that it opens so many doors and possible paths for the band moving forward. With so much comfort with so many styles it’s easy to see how any one of them could produce incredible results on their own. Or maybe they’ll continue finding new and fascinating ways to combine them along with entirely new sounds. these are not your dreams may not be a perfect album, but the reasons why it works so well is because it’s striving for something far more interesting and potentially rewarding instead.
Read More: Review
Xythlia – Immortality Through Quantum Suicide (avant-garde mathgrind)
Sometimes, an elevator pitch is enough to sell someone on an album. We’ve all been there: a friend posts a Bandcamp link with a sentence like, “What if Car Bomb, but also Genghis Tron?,” and then you make this face. This exact thread happened (GIF and all) in our blog Slack workspace when someone posted the new Xythlia album, the amazingly titled Immortality Through Quantum Suicide. Head banging was involuntary the moment I pressed play on “Death Unyielding,” and after the half-hour run time wound down, my neck was broken and brain spilling out my fractured skull (I’m kidding…but only slightly).
That original summary of Xythlia’s music is pretty spot-on. Imagine the uber-heavy mathcore of bands like Car Bomb or Pound blended with the zany, ’00s mathgrind of Genghis Tron and Psyopus, with some Dillinger Escape Plan thrown in for good measure. Project mastermind Nick Stanger previously contributed to some recent favorites among the Heavy Blog camp, namely Ashbringer’s new offering of folk-tinged black metal, Absolution, and the self-titled debut from fretless blackened dream pop band Wishfield. Obviously, he’s taken a bit of a hard turn down the left hand path with Xythlia.
And I’m really, REALLY glad he did, because ITQC fucking slaps. From start to finish, you’re assaulted with wave after wave of angular, dissonant riffing, chunky grooves, (gravity) blasts galore, and Stanger barking until he’s hoarse. I struggled to find one moment that could be considered “respite,” which is actually one of the album’s greatest strengths. Even the pensive, moody atmospheres on tracks “To Defy Inevitability” feels too unsettling to be a true break from the album’s intensity.
Personally, the album’s strongest moments are when Stanger absolutely loses it on the kit and fretboard, unleashing a kind of free-jazz-metal that creates a beautiful cacophony. “Post-Ironic Indoctrination” and “Mutagenic Growth” take this approach to the extreme, with some of the noisiest, unhinged mathcore I’ve ever heard. Then again, the entire album is insanity at a level I haven’t encountered all year, and I urge you to submit to the chaos pronto.
Oh, and the track titles are on point throughout. I mean, “Schrödinger’s Foreskin”? Nice.
Oh, AND, his Bandcamp paged reads, “BLACK LIVES MATTER. NO TERFs ON OUR TURF. NAZI PUNKS FUCK OFF.” Enough said.
Aseitas – False Peace (dissonant tech death, avant-garde death metal)
Aseitas fully realized the potential they established on their debut. False Peace is an ambitious, punishing tech death gauntlet that should be on the radar of everyone who loves experimental metal.
Cinder Well – No Summer (dark folk, chamber folk)
Some of the best contemporary folk I’ve heard in years, and certainly my favorite releases from the genre in 2020. Do yourself a favor and jump on this now.
Gaerea – Limbo (Black metal)
Portugal’s Gaerea dropped an atom bomb of a debut a few years back, and their follow-up to that titanic effort is no less exceptional. Blazing riffs and intense melody combine with an emotional weight that most black metal bands only dream of achieving. It’s clear that Gaerea are here to stay, and Limbo their definitive statement of intent.
Read More: Kvlt Kolvmn
Gulch – Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress (hardcore)
Santa Cruz’s Gulch have gained a rabid cult following in hardcore circles and have apparently broken out to wider notoriety with their new record Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress. If you’re just now finding out about Gulch and want merch or physical media, you’re already too late. That’s how hot this band is right now. If you like thick, punky barnburners that flirt with grind and powerviolence, this is the record for you.
Mystras – Castles Conquered and Reclaimed (medieval black metal, folk metal)
Ayloss of Spectral Lore has had a busy 2020, but where his collaborative work with Mare Cognitum went for epic, galactic levels of sonic wonderment, his project Mystras hits an intimate, lo-fi note of anger and discontentment. Featuring some of his best songwriting to date, Castles Conquered and Reclaimed is a political and human testament that is as potent musically as it is lyrically. A fantastic release.
StoneBirds – Collapse and Fail (post-metal, progressive sludge)
It’s really easy to just discount all of the progressive stoner releases out there because there’s so much dross being released in the genre. But the fact is, there’s a reason this genre is so successful and it’s that there are some truly excellent bands operating within it. StoneBirds are one example: expect lots of grooves, echoing vocals, and a dash of post-metal heaviness.
Read More: Premiere
An Albatross – Return of the Lazer Viking (mathgrind, scramz)
Arms of Tripoli – One Way Plastic (post-rock, math rock)
Boris – NO (experimental rock, drone)
Draghkar – At the Crossroads of Infinity (old-school death metal, melodeath)
Fall of Messiah – Senicarne (screamo, post-rock)
Let Us Prey – Virtues of the Vicious (power metal, progressive thrash)
Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas (neo-soul)
Resin Tomb – Resin Tomb (blackened deathgrind)
Shezmu – À Travers Les Lambeaux (blackened death metal)
Spirit Possession – Spirit Possession (black metal, blackened thrash)